Maman class two. I was ashamed of that name. For a while. A very short while.
I wanted to sit up and advance too, but it wasn’t easy, especially as it was hard to communicate in class. I sat at the back, that way I hoped I was invisible. And I think I was. I didn’t like school, but there was no way I could go anywhere else here, for one, there was nowhere to go, our house wasn’t too far from school and someone would definitely see me. Then I discovered ‘ten-ten’. ‘Ten-ten’ pulled me out of my shell. I looked forward to school, to break time so I could play it. I thought about it in class, I dreamt about it, I excelled at it so much that I perfected the act of playing it even when alone. Even though Maa shouted and threatened when I played alone, it didn’t stop me. When I’d be sent to katin Alhaji on errands, I’d wait till I took the corner, then I’d ‘ten-ten’ my way to and fro. That was first term in my second class two.
At a point in class two, I began to wish I was Igbo. I thought they were born with the innate ability to speak English. And English was my greatest undoing in school. I was hepless there. I wish I knew even single words would be understood like that, but I didn’t, and that was why I kept attending the CRK class because I didn’t even know how to tell Ikenna’s mum, who was the CRK mistress, that I was a muslim. You know what surprised me even then? The fact that she’d come to look for me even when I stayed back for IRK. It was later on when the IRK master saw and called me back that I learnt Ikenna’s mum had thought I was Igbo, and because I was new, she took it upon herself to make sure I didn’t miss her class. When he asked why I didn’t tell her I was muslim, I told him
‘Da wani yare zan gaya mata? Ai bata jin Hausa.”
Then he said I could have told her in English, I looked at him like he had two heads.
I think it was in class three that we met Tukur. Tukur had a hump. He was hunchbacked. He was smaller than many of us but much older I’m sure because he rode to school on his own. He had a yellow bicycle and I think a yellow backpack. Tukur was class monitor and a bully. A different kind of bully.
My name always made it to the noise making list. I wondered how because I hardly ever made noise. I still feared the cane. What I didn’t know was that you paid Tukur to stay out of that list. If you slept in class, you made the ‘sleepers’ list.